Review: Maggie's Plan
PLOT: Maggie is a struggling young professional who is convinced she'll never be able to hold down a relationship. Just as she decides to artificially inseminate herself and become a single mom, a charming (and married) teacher arrives in her life, throwing complications in every direction.
REVIEW:Greta Gerwig is stuck in a rut. The actress, I mean, not the character she plays in MAGGIE'S PLAN or any of her other recent movies, although that's true too. Gerwig, it seems to me, has played the same character quite a few times now: A quirky, unlucky-in-love late 20s/early 30s New Yorker with hipster inclinations but a gonzo energy that attracts men to her without fail. She's not an unlikable screen presence, but for me she signals the type of movie I'm allergic to, the wacky/whiny indie dramedy showcasing a bunch of recognizable actors playing eccentric urban misfits trying to navigate their city (almost always New York), their jobs (writers, artists, etc.) and settle down with their true loves. I think we have Woody Allen to blame for these, but who knows. (The movies he made of this sort in the 80s were pretty great.) All I can say is, next to a musical western, this is the last kind of movie I usually want to see.
I don't walk into a movie with a prejudice against it, however, so I was willing to give MAGGIE'S PLAN, written and directed by Rebecca Miller, a shot. As it is, it's a fine example of the genre, and your reaction to it will more or less depend on how you feel about these films. For me, that still means watching boring white people with their white people problems interact in cutesy and/or caustic ways with each other over glasses of white wine. It has a good cast that knows how to survey the material and, I suppose, there are even one or two moments that made me smile. But it still never seems to amount to much; you want to shout "Get over it" a handful of times before the lights go up.
The titular Maggie (Gerwig) works at The New School and, as she helpfully informs us in an exposition-heavy early scene, can't seem to hold down a relationship. Having decided she wants to be a mom, she kindly asks an old classmate, the successful but spacey Guy (WARCRAFT's Travis Fimmel, amusingly playing against type) to donate some sperm, which he agrees to. It's immediately clear that Maggie is in no position to raise a baby - single mom or not - but that's not going to stop her, her ho-hum life spiraling toward permanent meaninglessness. But her resolve is rattled by the appearance of John (Ethan Hawke), an anthropology teacher tired of his job and his domineering Danish wife and colleague, Georgette (Julianne Moore). Before you can say "hey, our supposedly likable protagonists are cheaters!", the two fall madly in love and spend the night together (the very night Maggie was going to inseminate herself with Guy's donation, natch).
Here the movie unexpectedly skips forward three years: Maggie and John are living together, have a child of their own and partial custody of John's children with Georgette. John is still cranking away at the novel he was working on when Maggie first met him and maintains a cordial relationship with his ex, seemingly talking to her every day on the phone. Maggie is just figuring out that motherhood isn't the kooky adventure she expected it to be, but even more glaring is the fact that John's a man-child who lounges about all day and expects her to do the lion's share of the housework, childrearing and money-earning. So Maggie's plan, as it were, is now to get rid of John and send him back into Georgette's arms so she can be the happy single mom she always dreamed of.
It's fine that most of Maggie's inclinations are selfish and foolhardy - who among us can't say we haven't been there - but the movie often treats her like she's just a mixed up gal, not the life-shattering mess she actually is. If we consider her actions, we find it hard to sympathize with her: She breaks up a marriage, forever changing the existences of John and Georgette's children in the process, and when she decides she's unhappy with the arrangement, she wants to act like three years didn't happen, hence again altering the lives of the children, John and Georgette. It's a romantic comedy and we're supposed to give this character some leeway, but I couldn't help but sneer at her machinations. Not that the John character is much better; the movie wants us to invest in a love triangle where the man at the center is a self-absorbed, cheating, lazy louse. Whatever the outcome, he's going to be a toxic influence on the woman he winds up with. That leaves Georgette to be the most sympathetic person involved, and as played by Moore she's stern and judgmental, about as fun as a cross-examination. What a delightful trio!
That criticism aside, Moore provides MAGGIE'S PLAN with quite a kick; utilizing an accent that isn't quite Danish but isn't quite anything else, she's in full ice queen mode but manages to make the character's rigid exterior very entertaining. Hawke is playing a character he's played so many times before: Crackle-voiced, hair a mess, effortlessly charming but hopelessly immature; if your indie needs a guy in his 40s who isn't quite a grownup but manages to simultaneously be an intellectual, Hawke's your man. The rest of the cast, from Fimmel to Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph as Gerwig's exhausted married friends, are enjoyable whenever they briefly appear. And Gerwig, well, she plays the Greta Gerwig part adeptly, as is called for. The actress is not without talent, but she hasn't shown nearly enough range yet to warrant more than a passing interest in her roles, so the movies themselves better provide enough strong material for her to make a real impact. MAGGIE'S PLAN is just another adequate but forgettable romantic comedy.